NBA Position: PG
General Information: 19 years old, played for Kentucky. From New Orleans, LA.
Measurables: 6'3.25", 170 lbs, 6’6.5" wingspan, 8'4" standing reach.
2016-17 Season Statistics: 16.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 2.4 TOPG (36 games played, 29.6 minutes a contest) – 47.8% FG, 73.9% FT, 24.6% 3P
De’Aaron Fox blends gamebreaking agility, high-end playmaking potential, and disturbingly low shooting percentages into one, dangerously intriguing package. Elite speed and length can make one hell of a player, and Fox isn’t just a physical freak—he’s developing as a half-court point guard and is already a terror on the fast break. But in a league where weak jumpers crush point guard dreams, it’s impossible to call him a safe pick. Is Fox the next prophesied hero who breaks the Shaun Livingston curse on bad-shooting point guards? Who knows, but he’s an easy player to fall in love with thanks to his gym-rat attitude and personable nature.
Fox was a capable, willing point guard who led one of the best offenses in college basketball to an Elite Eight spot, but his passing ability shouldn’t be oversold as an immediate strength. I’ve heard the term “uncanny feel for the game” thrown out in defense of Fox; I would amend this to “solid with oodles of potential”. He’s a smart passer (28.7% assist rate with a 27.6% usage rate) who pushed the tempo and knew how to run the offense to keep all of Kentucky’s weapons involved… but his near 2/1 assist-to-turnover ratio is only acceptable, and Calipari directed the ball away from him in some close games (Lousiville, Florida, and Kansas come to mind). Still, he’s a youngster with a good eye in transition and a flare for highlight passes when the defense overcommits. There’s every reason to expect he can become a high-level passer and signal caller.
Aside from his passing, Fox’s other selling point is his elite speed/explosiveness and his success at harnessing those tools on the attack. 30.7% of his offense came in transition, and his field goal % rose to 56.3% while his turnover numbers DROPPED compared to half-court sets. Synergy’s stats show that combining his transition shot attempts and the transition shots attempted off his passes averaged 1.26 points per possession, which is in the top 15th percentile in the NCAA. If he wasn’t throwing the lob for a highlight alley-oop, he was catching them himself.
He’s fearless at attacking the rim, and few NBA guards, let alone college guards, can keep up with him in a footrace. He showed unteachable instincts at absorbing contact and finishing around the rim; he finished with a 59.7% field goal success at the rim in half court sets. This success wasn’t always consistent, and NBA defenders will laugh at a 170 pound youngster patrolling the paint, but as his strength and handle improves (a legendary handle could serve as a massive crutch for that non-shooting potential), he’ll be a terror in transition.
Fox is a player I want to love, but he’s a type I’ve been burned by before. I’m on the record for supporting Kris Dunn, Emmanuel Mudiay, Elfrid Payton, Michael Carter-Williams, AND both Tyreke Evans and Ricky Rubio in their drafts (John Wall too, but he was out of reach). Point guards with MEHdiocre shoots? LOVE EM. I expected each one of them to fix their shot, none of them did, but some day, someone in this draft profile will!
The problem with Fox – that jumpshot isn’t mediocre, it’s bad. (All stats below courtesy of Synergy Sports).
- When forced to play in the half-court, he shot 27.6% from the floor (19% from three) and his overall points-per-jumpshot sink to 0.64 – 14% percentile.
- 36th percentile for shot-up success, snagging just 0.82 points per shot.
- 54.8% true shooting percentage, worst for the top-flight guards (Markelle Fultz – 55.8%, Dennis Smith, 56.5%; Frank Ntilikina, 58.8%; Lonzo Ball, 67.3%).
- 74% free throw rate is promising, but his other set-shot – a no-dribble jumper – is his most used shot, and it’s in the 7th percentile.
- When coming off the pick-and-roll, his off-the-dribble shot success was just 24%. 9th percentile.
Given his film over the last year, nothing about his technique is exceptionally consistent. There’s hope that strength training might give Fox consistency boost might as his core bulks up, but he’ll also have to adjust to the NBA three-point range before he developed any consistency at it in college. At the collegiate level, the lack of a jumper for such a big offensive cog can be limiting; in the pros, it will affect everything. Collegiate defenders have nothing on an NBA defense that smells blood in the water.
The bright spot for Fox is things improved towards the end of the year; these numbers I threw out above were all DECENTLY in early March when I first snagged them. DraftExpress’ Mike Schmitz and Matt Kamalsky note that his 31% success rate on pull-up jumpers and 20% on spot up attempts rose to 55% and 36% in March. He also saw his three point success jump to 43.5% in March... albeit on only 16 attempts.
His 73.9% free throw rate is promising, and there’s the old NBA wisdom that believes free throw success is a better indicator of shooting success at the NBA level. Fox might just be the draft prospect with the work ethic and the coachable issues to make him the real NBA unicorn; the non-shooting point guard who breaks the mold and learns to shoot. But that mold has produced a ton of lottery busts over the past few years.
Fox plays defense with an eagerness many one-and-done players never show. As a defender, none of the guards in the lottery (aside from Donovan Mitchell) attack their opponents as relentlessly as Fox, and his foot speed and length will be serious weapons. He’s a smart player who knows his physical gifts, and as the year went on he went from being a gifted-athletic defender to a smarter-gifted-athletic defender. His technique wasn’t always great, and his ball-hawking instincts (2.7% steal rate, 2.0 per 40) would often be exploited by smart offenses. He can recover only so much when he throws himself out of position.
He won’t make an immediate NBA impact until both his technique AND strength issues are mitigated; he’s entering the league at 170 pounds, and even with the speed boost to help compensate, smart guards are going to take advantage of that. Once he gets serious NBA-weight-room time, he could become a plus defender, especially since the effort part won’t ever be in question.
Fox, by all accounts, handled his single season inside the biggest NCAA spotlight excellently. Aside from some nagging injuries that plagued him throughout the year, he was either Kentucky's 1A or 1B most important player, depending on Malik Monk's daily biorhythm. While Fox's shooting issues will be a much bigger deal in the NBA, he was able to lead the Wildcats’ prolific offense to strong success (top 20 efficiency) with his speed and athleticism that almost no competition could match.
Fox showed modest improvements in his shooting and decision making as the year went on, and arguably had the most impressive tournament run of the lottery-bound players. He’s a bright, aware young player who shined at the combine (the lone point guard in his range to attend) and had plenty of insight on ALL the teams in his draft range, including the Kings when they were still slotted at pick 8.
The concerns surrounding Fox have nothing to do with his effort level or motor, both of which served him well in college and should give him a great chance in the NBA to at least become a competent floor general. But the story of Fox’s NBA career will likely be defined by his jumper. If you truly believe his shooting isn’t as bad as the stats say, that’s certainly a fair belief to have for a youngster with plenty of time to improve. But I don’t know how anyone is exceptionally confident—either for or against Fox—about what his star potential at this level until that shot materializes.
Fit with Sacramento:
With a strong collection of young wing shooters with secondary/tertiary handling skills, Fox would give the Kings the young floor general they so desperately need. He'd fit in well next to any one of Buddy Hield/Malachi Richardson/Bogdan Bogdanovic, who can all help keep the floor spaced and move without the ball. Assuming Fox's defense translates and he survives a rookie year of low-impact strength, he could certainly become the lead defensive guard the Kings have lacked since... Doug Christie? Plus, Garret Temple is the perfect veteran to take Fox under his wing. The biggest worry; more than any of the other points in the class, Fox offers little as an off-ball player, and Hield/BB are both players who will likely command big usage. Fox will NEED to become a better shooter before defenses will respect him moving without the ball.
For all my concerns with Fox, who sits 6th on my big board and 4th among point guards on my big board (behind Fultz, Dennis Smith, and Lonzo Ball, and ahead of Frank Ntilikina), Fox makes a great deal of sense for Sacramento. It’s becoming increasingly clear the organization feels the same way, and we all know how strongly the fanbase wants Fox in purple. My gut says much of the top-4 hype is agent driven (hoping to secure his client more money, as is his job) or Philly/Phoenix driven (hoping to get the Kings to panic and trade up). As Akis discussed earlier this week, offering 5/10 to trade up for Fox would be a disaster for Sacramento. Giving up one of the young shooting guards to move up also seems like talent overpay... but if the Kings so want to lock him up and hand him to keys to the franchise, that’s their risk to take. Expectations need to be tempered with plenty of patience, but it’s hard not to be optimistic about Fox.